This crow needs pepper or sumpin’

swlogoOkay, so remember where I said I wouldn’t put The Proviso on SmashWords because it had special formatting and boo hoo hoo?

You know what? I’m a capitalist-pig whore* and I’m full of shit, too.

SmashWords partnered with Stanza and Stanza’s iPhone store, so naturally I got over my formatting/design hubris immediately and figured out a way to do all my special little touches with your bare-bones Word settings. So, yeah. Apple, bite me. Or rather, let me bite you. The Proviso is now available on your iPhone/iTouch at the Stanza store via SmashWords in EPUB, LRF, MOBI/PRC, PDB (the PalmDoc source file, not the eReader container), and PDF. You can read 30% of it free there, too.

*Yeah, I know it was redundant and probably went without saying anyway.

But, erm, be patient. Their servers are very popular at the moment.

Yay Stanza and a big THANKS! to Mark Coker and Bill Kendrick for going out of their way to help me.

Creating e-books: The easy way


In my last episode, I instructed you to go learn (X)HTML/CSS. I was gently taken to task for that with the point, “writers shouldn’t have to learn code.” While I am of the opinion that for some writers, this is not only true, but that they should be kept from any computer interaction whatsoever, I’m afraid it’s just not realistic in the long run. You will learn something, even if it’s only the paragraph tags and all of it will be useful to you at some point.

Yes, you can use or or any other sign-in platform for your blogging.

Yes, you can use Word and PrimoPDF to set type and distribute your work as a free PDF.

If you want to:

A. want to offer more than one file format (PDF) and/or

B. want to charge for your work

you’re going to have to either pay someone to do it for you or learn how to do it yourself.

There are quite a few places that will help you with #A.

FEEDBOOKS. As far as I can tell, if you use this service, you must offer your work for free. If this is not acceptable to you, just don’t use their service. (And if this isn’t true, let me know because I scoured the site and couldn’t find any “payment” type information. ) Also, you must manually build your book. Now, this has its pros and cons. The con is that it takes a while. The pro is that you can make it look purty with a little care and attention without having to learn much (if any) (X)HTML/CSS.

BOOKWORM. This is a peculiar service in that you may upload your own book, but the only format you get is the EPUB format. It is also more for reading than publishing (as far as I can tell; more information on this is welcome).

SMASHWORDS. This is the Q-DOS of e-book building/formatting. It’s very quick. And yeah, sometimes it’s dirty, especially if you don’t format your Word document correctly (as in, according to standard word processing practices and to SmashWords’s style guide). That’s the con. The pro is it’s fast and you can charge for your work.

I’m making several assumptions here. The FIRST assumption is that you want your book to be in as many electronic formats as possible. The SECOND assumption is that you want to have those formats available to you on your own hard drive for dissemination as you please. The THIRD assumption is that you want your work to have widespread visibility across the interwebz. The FOURTH assumption is that you might want to get paid for your work.

So let’s talk about SmashWords.

I heard about SmashWords from Eugene Woodbury quite a while back, who used it for his novel Path of Dreams, but I dismissed it because I thought the work had to be offered free. Then Zoe Winters used it for her free novella “Kept.” Okay. But then Aaron Ross Powell used it to offer his draft of The Hole in more formats than Kindle right after I bitched about it. Then RJ Keller used it to offer Waiting for Spring, and that’s when I had the V-8 moment.

I figured, well, what the hell, I’ll try this thing. So I took a vignette from The Proviso‘s world (not in the book) called “25 to Life” and decided to put it on Smashwords.

CAVEAT: “25 to Life” did not call for fancy formatting like The Proviso does. The Proviso has blog posts, e-mails, news clippings, court transcripts, social services records, a wedding announcement, and other specialized formatting that required different fonts, spacing, and margins to make those items look good. If you have something like that, this WILL NOT WORK for you.

Assumption 1. That you want your book to be in as many electronic formats as possible.

They have this nifty little API they call the “MeatGrinder.” It will turn a plain, properly formatted Word document into any one or more of the following digital formats:

Format Full Book
Online Reading (HTML) View
Online Reading (JavaScript) View
Kindle (.mobi) Download
Epub (open industry format, good for Stanza reader, others) Download
PDF (good for highly formatted books, or for home printing) Download
RTF (readable on most word processors) Download
LRF (for Sony Reader) Download
Palm Doc (PDB) (for Palm reading devices) Download
Plain Text (download) (flexible, but lacks much formatting) Download
Plain Text (view) (viewable as web page) View


As you can see, that’s a lot of variation. I got both The Hole and Waiting for Spring in the RTF format, as that was the easiest for me to convert to my eBookWise reader. Powell asked for $2.99 and Keller offered hers for “you set the price.”

Assumption 2. That you want to have those formats available to you on your own hard drive for dissemination as you please.

I don’t even know if you have to buy it yourself (if you set a price) to download which formats you want to offer from your own site or elsewhere, but even if you do have to, you got off cheap in both time and money.

Don’t be an ass. Be courteous and leave it up on SmashWords. They did the work for you.

You will NOT be able to get a straight HTML document to download and then tweak to other formats, which is good.

Assumption 3. That you want your work to have widespread visibility across the interwebz.

The founder of SmashWords, Mark Coker, says: “Our mission is to give every author a chance to find their audience.”

SmashWords is gradually gaining in name recognition and usage. Augment your presence on SmashWords with placement of your work elsewhere on the ’net. It benefits you and SmashWords (you know, the people who did the work for you).

Assumption 4. You might want to get paid for your work.

There are several payment options at SmashWords, which I’ve addressed. In my first “creating ebooks” post, commenter and indie author champion Morris Rosenthal told me about, which is a payment portal for downloads. He’s had quite a bit of success with this method, though I can’t vouch for it at this time (although I do intend to check it out).

However, as far as I know, SmashWords is the only independent e-publishing vendor that offers an API process AND a payment portal and quite frankly, there’s just nothing else that beats that, even if you do have to sacrifice a little formatting.

So after having put “25 to Life” up on SmashWords, used their API, seen their output, what do I think?

The HTML and Java versions (the ones that you read on your computer) are very pretty and you can adjust fonts, colors, and sizes as you like.

The plain TXT ones are, well, plain text. It says “may lack some formatting,” but if you know anything about plain text, you know that means NO formatting.

The EPUB (use with Stanza for iPhone/iTouch, Adobe Digital Editions) format doesn’t seem to have centered anything, but I can live with that.

The LRF (Sony) and PDB (Palm) didn’t pick up the italics, which is something I CAN’T live with, but it’s being worked on right now (no promises!).

The PDF looked like a manuscript because, well, it comes from a plain Word document, so you know that going in.

The MOBI/PRC (Kindle, MobiPocket) looked great.

The RTF is obviously going to look just like a Word document, and it’s my go-to for conversion to IMP (eBookWise), so I don’t care how it looks.

If you follow the SmashWords style guide to the letter, you’ll have a slew of decent-looking e-books (including EPUB!) as defined by my last post on “the page” and you’ll get them in about 3 minutes, along with a payment portal.

SmashWords is an elegant little API, and it’s still in beta testing. I can’t wait to see what it’ll be at full force.

Creating e-books

Note: I cross-posted this on Publishing Renaissance on December 24, 2008.

I’ve been thinking about offering a quick’n’dirty series on how to create various ebook formats, wondering if independent publishers (or even micro- and small presses) know how to disseminate their wares effectively in electronic format. I know PDF is the fallback position and while I have a love/hate relationship with PDF (formatting, yay! reading on computer, boo! hiss!), most people who don’t have an ebook reading device pretty much are stuck with the computer.

(This is one reason I have issues with places like Lulu, iUniverse, AuthorHouse, etc. Their electronic delivery is exclusively PDF. I don’t know if the authors have the option to create other formats or even if they’re inclined to do so, but I urge those indies who choose such providers to check it out and diversify.)

SmashWords has a grinder program that allows you to upload your document and then spits out various electronic incarnations of it, but it has formatting issues, which is to say, some it ain’t pretty especially if you have a not-very-well-formatted RTF document to begin with. Oh well and get over it. They do a marvelous job with what they get and it’s a few hundred steps in the right direction—not to mention the fact that once you get it on your ebook reading device, it probably won’t make you any difference.

But in case you do want to know how it’s done (or, more properly, how we did it, properly or not), what tools we used, why—and we invite others to correct us on more efficient ways to do it (that doesn’t involve Book Designer, thanks)—here’s the first and most important thing you have to do:

Learn XHTML and CSS. Really.

O’Reilly at Tools of Change is pushing for all formats to be based on XML, but if you’re reading this post, this is probably a DIY project and XHTML is, IMO, easier to learn. You will need this for every format you might want to offer (except PDB [Palm] and as an ebook application [iApp] to be sold in the iTunes store).

After that, it’s all tweaks and about 6 different pieces of (almost free) software.

Go on now and learn XHTML and CSS. I’m not going to post tutorials on that when others have done it better than I.

Zoe Winters’s “Kept”

by Zoe Winters
published by IncuBooks

Zoe is an independent publisher I “met” by happenstance when I got soundly thrashed on Dear Author for suggesting that a multi-published author whose 3-book SERIES contract had been canceled after book 2 (leaving her fans out in the cold with characters they loved) actually self-publish the third book in the series (you know, since her rights had reverted back to her and she already has a fan base salivating for it). Good gravy, you’d’a thunk I’d said the Rapture was coming tomorrow and they’d all be left behind and have 666 burned into their foreheads bwahahahahaha burn in hell losers.

Anyhoo, as Bob Ross would say, it was a happy accident.

Kept is a free novella you can find at her site (link above) in PDF form. You can find it at Amazon in Kindle for 80¢ and you can find it on Smashwords in various formats for those of us who bitch if we don’t get it the way we want it. Somebody call me a waaaaahmbulance.

And really, “free” is my second-favorite four-letter f-word.

Here’s the blurb:

Greta is a werecat whose tribe plans to sacrifice her during the next full moon. Her only hope for survival is Dayne, a sorcerer who once massacred most of the tribe. What’s that thing they say about the enemy of your enemy?

Now, I don’t do much paranormal and I really don’t like shapeshifters, but throw the word “sorcerer” or “wizard” or “warlock” at me and I’ll take a second look. And I’m glad I did.

Beefs first:

The story was a little choppy in moments of transition, but I’ve seen that so much lately that it doesn’t bother me as much as it used to and, I’m guessing, readers are being taught to get used to it and, by extension, writers are doing it more.

Also, the story could’ve been longer with more explanation of the world. I (Random Reader who likes really really really long books) would have liked that. Let me get you some salt for that opinion.

Good stuff:

What glimpses of their world I got, I liked. I could tell it wasn’t a half-assed world half-thunk-up on the fly, and that it had depth and detail underneath. (Repeat: wanted more.)

I really enjoyed the hero’s crankiness and the fact that he was “old” (how old we’re not told, but I inferred around a century). I liked that when the hero and heroine had sex pretty nearly upfront it was because of species-specific hormone issues (i.e., cat in heat) that she usually controls with medicine, but didn’t have her medicine with her.

I laughed a lot through this book. The banter is witty and cute, seems natural to both of them, and gave the characters the depth that natural humor brings to people.

The cover’s pretty and the interior design is good. In short, it’s right up there with a lot of the novellas in the anthologies by traditional publishers that are on bookstore shelves and much better than a lot of other stuff I’ve read lately from the e-presses that I paid for. I enjoyed myself.

Coulda been longer. Did I say that?

So. If you get it from Smashwords, leave a tip, okay?